Chapter 14 – Enemy
"Was ever woman in this humor wooed?
Was ever woman in this humor won?
I'll have her, but I will not keep her long."
-William Shakespeare, Richard III, Act 1 Scene 2
It was many moments before Maeve remembered to breathe.
That's Dagda's cauldron. That is The Cauldron of Dagda, I can feel it! How is this possible? Does this mean that everything I ever thought was just a story, everything is real? This answer Maeve did not know. By her figuring, it was both yes and no by the accounts she'd seen of late.
The ancient fairy relic trembled like a thing possessed, rattling the floor. Behind Dracula, Antonio, and the squabbling herd of Dwergi was one other vampire Maeve recognized, though she had had no idea that he was a vampire: Conn Zaylour. Maeve stared for a moment, forgetting about the cauldron. Many times she had seen Mr. Zaylour at the Dublin City Hall. He'd always been hard at work, and yet he always carried a slimy way about him. In fact, there'd been quite a scandal concerning him plastered in all the newspapers a few years ago. And he is Vampire?
A deep rumble shook her from her thoughts. The Dwergi were scuttling about like frantic crabs on a beach. At Dracula's command, two more reached for the cauldron only to sink to the floor upon touching it, and then began to brutally fight with each other. Another Dwergi stepped forward, determined to obey its master.
"Stop!" Maeve shouted, rushing into the room. "Don't touch it! No one touch it!" she looked pointedly at the three vampires.
Dracula's eyes widened a fraction of an inch before narrowing again. "Miss Reilly, this is not an appropriate place for you," he said, his voice low with warning. "It is much too dangerous."
Maeve made a sideways glance at the count as she strode over to the cauldron. "The entire world is much too dangerous, I think, Count. Yet I am here just the same."
Many angry lines creased Dracula's face. Fortunately his face would not freeze in that fashion. Antonio, in contrast, remained still in his effort not to grin.
"Miss Reilly," Dracula began again as Maeve stopped just before the cauldron. "I must insist you vacate the room." Even Maeve knew this was not a request. She ignored him.
"I can fix this. Otherwise you'll have no servants left at the rate the cauldron is going."
Dracula remained tense, but moved closer to the mortal. "What do you know?"
Maeve glanced sharply at him. "That you lied to me. You don't care about learning my country's ways so you could live here in peace: a fresh start. You just want our treasure! Our birthright." She kneeled in front of the cauldron, not touching it, searching for the inscription.
"You're no better than every other foreign invader," she whispered coldly.
Dracula halted. Maeve continued to study the still active cauldron at a safe distance.
"You are a thief, parasite,lying, no good – "
"Enough!" Dracula's eyes flashed.
"Diabhal!" Maeve cried. But she didn't say another word. Strangely, she felt pleased deep down that she had gotten a response from the count. To find that she cared for such a thing, regardless of its form, frightened her. This was not like when she disagreed with her parents. During those, she had wanted any and all conflicts to disappear without comment.
"If you can mend my servants' error, do so. Otherwise, hold your tongue," said Dracula, clearly irritated. Maeve remained silent, but she glared. It didn't last long as she had found what she was looking for.
"I had meant this to be a surprise. You spoke so fondly of the Cauldron I thought it would please you to see it for yourself." Maeve calmed, surprised at this. He had been thinking of her, had meant to surprise her? And with such a marvelous gift! Then why did she feel she was being lied to?
Furthermore," he continued. "I have not lied to you, silly girl. There is much we can do for each other. I'll not have it spoiled by your temper."
Maeve looked at the count. "We have a…business relationship, Count Dracula, a mutual understanding of formalities, only." She said this with surprising and nearly embarrassing force. "But would you ever do business with a partner you could not trust?" She looked at Conn icily. Neither Conn nor Dracula missed this. Conn glared back at her.
That little human brat better not spoil anything, thought Conn with a hard expression.
"Miss Reilly, I am most disturbed that you do not trust me after what I have offered you. We must work on your social skills."
Maeve ignored him and eyed the ancient inscription again. How can he go from rage to amusement so quickly? She hesitated, translating the old language in her head carefully before speaking in her native tongue out loud.
"What are you doing?" Conn demanded.
"What does it look like? I'm trying to fix this botch up."
"You are no sorceress," Conn sneered. "You are but a human girl."
"Aye," agreed Maeve. "But I'm a human girl that knows Gaelic. And the way to command the Cauldron just so happens to be in Gaelic. I can try and replicate what any sorcerer – or faerie – might do."
"Seems awful foolish if you ask me," huffed Conn.
"Thankfully, none of our party asked your opinion," Dracula said quietly. "Miss Reilly, please continue." Maeve nodded towards Dracula, grateful for his apparent confidence in her improvisation. She dearly hoped she knew what she was doing. She began to speak again. As she spoke, the cauldron began to calm until at last it stilled completely. Success!
Dracula listened to the girl speak in her native tongue with peculiar interest. It was quite remarkable to hear the difference, and he was unaccustomed to the sound of an Irish brogue still. In fact, there had been moments where he'd needed Maeve to repeat herself when she spoke because the accent had fallen harsh on his ears. He was beginning to like the sound.
Releasing the breath she had been holding, Maeve carefully clutched her skirt and stood up. The cauldron had quieted like a rampaging child that had lost its energy. She had actually done it.
"Well done," said Dracula in a different, much less irritated voice. "You've charmed the cauldron. I am curious as to what else you might charm."
Maeve turned to him, her lips set in a firm line. For a moment she looked enraged again and it was evident to all present that she would yell obscenities at the count, but instead she shut her mouth and calmed herself. As she had always told herself with her parents: seeking out conflict would do nothing. She must choose her battles.
"One of the Four Treasures, the Cauldron of Dagda is a powerful vessel of magic," she began shortly. "When touched, it draws the person in with their greatest wish, but forever leaves them unsatisfied. You must wear gloves when touching it."
"The Dwergi do wear gloves," Dracula replied smoothly.
Maeve shook her head and a smile threatened to crown her lips. "Not special ones." She refused to freely give more information on that particular subject. "Eventually, death will come after the victim has slowly become nothing. Chaos rips their minds apart like that," Maeve indicated the twitching Dwergi on the floor. Maeve paused before speaking again; noticing she had everyone's full attention. The surviving Dwergi had already begun clean up. Aside from Granda, no man had ever cared about Otherworld fantasies and quests. In fact, her at times over-eagerness for the subject had no doubt cost her more than one suitor. She almost wanted to tell Dracula more, just for him to look at her like that. Stop that! She thought furiously.
"I cannot believe that the legend my grandfather told me of its location is true," she murmured to herself, eyes cast to the floor. How had Brian known such a thing? Was it a coincidence? Or did he have some connection with the Good People she did not know about? "You should be more careful, Count," she admonished, quickly looking up again, meeting Dracula's eyes purposefully. Dracula noticed. "'Tis bad luck to disturb the dead."
Dracula's lips curved. "I am touched by your concern, Miss Reilly, but believe me, I know the risks." He smiled pleasantly, a counterfeit smile aimed to conquer that had calmed even Aleera in her fiercest of rages. Unfortunately, Maeve could not see it, not with his hood protecting his face in shadow. Instead Maeve only saw the eyes of a smug and arrogant man that had used her without her knowing it. She was unmoved by his most simple, powerful weapon.
"If you had told me what you were trying to do, Count, then I would have been convinced in my eager stupidity to share with you the locations of the other Three, what with this legend proving true, and all." She waved her hand dismissively.
Dracula suppressed a grimace. His plans really were not going well lately, after all. And she was not warming to him as she should.
"Now that I know you to be a treasure-seeker… Consider our lessons on hiatus until further notice." A smug look twisted Conn's lips the way a snake twists a sickly rat. Remaining silent, Antonio eyed him reproachfully. He would remember this.
"Miss Reilly – "
"I need to research," she finished shortly. "I need - Nay, don't ask me again! I need to think. There is much I need to look into. I'm not going anywhere, but I need to think," she repeated. God Almighty, she needed to get out of the room! She briskly began to make her exit, head held high.
"Miss Reilly," Dracula called, determined to save the evening. He moved to block the door. Maeve stopped, but refused to turn around, she would not. "You know quite well what we can do for each other," the count began, his voice a tone of supremacy and an unyielding will for victory. "Or must I refresh your memory a little in front of my servants, hmm?"
Maeve felt that terrible blush wash over her again. She turned around but would not meet the count's gaze. "I would not think it wise to speak so freely in front of your servants, sir. Not unless you trust their loss of hearing or control of their tongue." Conn's jaw set hard. If his fangs were not retracted he'd have snapped them off. In contrast, Dracula's lips twitched upwards. "Miss Reilly, shall I send for a particular book to aid in your research?" he asked charmingly.
"No thank you, Count. I won't be needing any book for my research." she replied politely. "I respect books, but I don't always trust them."
"You don't trust books?" Dracula found himself asking, bewildered. "You are a schoolteacher."
"Yes," Maeve agreed, "for mathematics and such, books are perfect. But in this arena, storytelling by word of mouth keeps the heart and soul. It stays with the family, the culture." And yet my country's way of life is dying, Maeve's thoughts echoed. She ignored them, as she had been attempting for the majority of the evening.
"But books last forever."
"Oral tradition has been around for even longer."
Dracula eyed her curiously at her logic.
"And yet your traditions are at last being stamped out by civilization," sneered Margaret as she sashayed into the room. Maeve thought it was quite impressive that the blind woman could move about a large manor without the aid of a walking stick. Not that she'd ever admit to any such compliment.
"And a jolly good evening to you, Margaret," Maeve replied stiffly. Similar words, but without Maeve's sarcasm, greeted the English girl's entrance.
"Sorry I am late, Lord Dracula, we agreed to talk about my grievances, remember?" Maeve frowned unexpectedly. She felt…unsettled.
"I do," said Dracula, quite annoyed again. Grievances, indeed. He was quite sick of the woman's demands. Clearly, her lonely life devoid of pleasantries with her father had much to do with her current streak of selfish and petty desires. She was not clingy, in fact she was quite independent all things considered. But the girl was trying to make up for her sorrowful life with possessions simply because she could. It was a pity Dracula could care less about her irrelevant issues with the father she had handed over to be murdered. "But I am currently occupied, Margaret. You will have to wait until I send for you, as I had bid you do yesterday."
"Oh, you may speak now. I was just leaving," piped Maeve, inching towards the door.
"Before you do," Margaret said, cruel intention creeping into her voice. "Have you read the papers recently?"
Maeve shook her head, but then remembered its uselessness. "No, why?"
Margaret smiled darkly. "What a shame. That girl Bridget Cleary has been all over it."
Maeve swallowed. She had forgotten about poor Bridgie. They had not been close friends. They had only met once. But Bridget Cleary was remarkable. She had her own business completely separate from her husband and her own household. In fact, she actually had owned a Singer sewing machine! On top of that, she'd married for love and not for duty. Bridget was truly a modern woman, and Maeve admired her. Michael and Bridget Cleary began as a wonderful love story, but its climax and conclusion was of the horror genre. Bridget had gone missing in March, only to be found buried in a shallow grave, her corpse burnt to a crisp. Michael had thought her to be an evil changeling and so he cleansed her. A cold chill crawled down Maeve's back.
"And how would you know what is in the newspaper?" asked Maeve in what she had wanted to be a sharp tone, but had sounded weak and pitiful.
"It's read to me," Margaret replied coolly. "As for Bridget Cleary, her murder is livin' proof this country is a mad, mad place and needs the steady hand of Britain to guide it. Say goodbye to Home Rule. Not that you ever had a chance, anyway."
Maeve went ashen and a fierce anger bubbled up inside of her. "Domestic violence happens everywhere! I could write books on all the bloodshed England has had!"
"Yes, but her husband threw her in the oven like the Christmas meat, ranting about fairy possession and white horses on hills. The wild, insanity of Ireland must be curbed, don't you agree?" Margaret asked sweetly. "If this incident is repeated, there won't be a single Irishmen left in this miserable, filthy country. What a loss that would be."
Maeve's fingers were shaking. Never had she wanted to take a life with her own bare hands so strongly before. She wished she could think of something clever and spiteful to throw back at Margaret, but wit eluded her.
"Y-you – how d-dare you! Y-you – "
"My, how eloquent you are," Margaret said coolly. Maeve shut her mouth, wishing with all her might that Margaret could see the hatred Maeve sent her with her eyes.
"Now, Margaret," interjected Dracula. "You would do well to curb your own tongue. Miss Reilly is my guest and you will treat her with respect."
Deaf to Margaret's reply, Maeve slid her eyes over to Dracula, and through her own anger, felt grateful. Strange that her only human companion in this place was her enemy and it was the Otherworldly creature that defended her. Then again, he probably just wants peace in his own household.
"Besides, it is my wish that Miss Reilly's voice is not marred by her most unattractive stutter."
Maeve blinked twice, and chose not to respond, but after a second thought inclined her head to Conn. "I really wouldn't trust him if I were you, Count." Dracula's eyebrows rose at their shared sentiments.
"No? And why would that be? Conn has his uses. But then again so does a rat." Antonio hooted but Conn glared at Maeve to the point of a snarl. He was beginning to very much loathe this human girl.
"He is my countrymen," replied Maeve quietly. "And I know my people. But I am not practiced in politics, so I will leave your choice to you, of course."
Dracula silently appraised the mortal girl he had expertly manipulated into his manor. "Allow me to escort you to your room, Miss Reilly," he said, offering Maeve his hand. "Antonio can entertain Miss Dudley for a few minutes." It occurred to Dracula that neither woman could see him, and as a result, could not bend to his will that way. He really did hate the devil's decrees. At least Margaret was wanton and easily won. Maeve was an entirely different matter.
"Antonio?" Margaret echoed in an entirely different voice. The scorn in her was gone. "Where is he?"
"Buenas tardes, Margarita," whispered Antonio from his spot behind Dracula. Within seconds he had led Margaret to the couch where he seated himself beside her. Conn rolled his eyes. Oh please.
Maeve looked carefully at Dracula's hand. She'd buried her first impression of him, wishing to believe in benevolent magic. But she'd quickly categorized Dracula as a Grendel. Under his hood he must look a fright, and Maeve knew well the vanity of one's visage. It could be the seed of much turmoil. She eyed Dracula's outstretched hand again. Something was amiss. This she knew with all certainty. She took his hand. As soon as she did, she regretted it. Something was very wrong with her, and it made her heart skip a beat. But she reminded herself to worry so much. After all, she knew much about the Otherworld. Whatever Count Dracula threw at her, she was positive she could handle it. Granda had told her many stories.
Dracula grinned with victory as he led her down the hall. He was one step closer to securing her into his bed. He had forgotten the euphoria he felt when a won maiden tumbled into his bed after a chase. But then his thoughts darkened. He'd also forgotten that he was not chasing Maeve Reilly for her feminine charms. He needed her to be besotted with him, but for his freedom.
Once Dracula return, Antonio approached to his master and said, "Uf, Master! I thought Señorita Reilly was going to let you have it. She was not pleased with you."
"No," he agreed sourly. Aside to Antonio so Margaret and Conn could not hear he whispered, "she was not. But it is easy enough to make amends with a displeased woman. I cannot afford to fail, especially by the feelings of that girl."
Conn was seething. But he agreed with Dracula. He could not afford to fail.
Later that night, it didn't take long for Dracula to locate Maeve by her heartbeat. The girl had fallen asleep on a sofa, red hair fanned out, papers strewn everywhere. A closer look told him they were Maeve's notes – two pieces of paper were stuck to her forehead even as she slept and ink coated her fingernails. Dracula delicately collected Maeve's notes into a tidy pile and began to read the top page.
His brow furrowed in confusion but then he chuckled. Clever girl. She'd written everything in Gaelic. Luckily for her, he was amused by this, among other things that were in her favor.
The following morning, Maeve walked back to the manor, dejected. This was not how things were supposed to go! Maeve could not understand why she couldn't use the knife as well as she thought she should be using it. It was frustrating when one's determination didn't match their skill. But she would learn. She would just have to try harder. Ambitiously, Maeve wanted to learn how to use throwing knives, especially because she didn't relish close proximity to any attacker, especially if it was that monster she'd faced at the bridge. She certainly wouldn't be learning how to throw a knife any time soon, but she could be patient. She had to be.
Maeve was surprised she hadn't been killed already. How could she be so foolish as to walk about at all hours alone, without any means of protection for herself? She'd run into trouble already more than once. But she would learn from her mistakes. I just wish there was an easier, quicker way, she thought resentfully.
As an added, mishap, while in the village she'd run into Kian, a horrible, lecherous, bully of a man with a pack of hunting dogs in tow. Maeve glared at the memory. He'd made a despicable jest about her wares when he'd seen her after Mass. She had not known the man long but she hated him as much as she hated Margaret Dudley, and Kian was one of her own countrymen!
As she neared Dracula's manor, she noticed a hooded figure appear from under the bridge in the center garden. "Count? Oh – it's you. What are you doing?" Maeve's mood became darker.
Conn sneered at her. "None of your business, human girl!" he hissed. Maeve glared and rubbed her wrist fervently.
"I don't know what you are doing, Mr. Zaylour, but I won't allow you to injure the count. I know what you're capable of." Conn scoffed.
"It's Lord, actually. And please. You won't allow me? You're a human."
"Yes," Maeve agreed. "And this human knows your character better then Dracula, and I will tell him anything he needs to know. It's why he hired me."
"Perhaps," said Conn. "But you're still a weakling, perhaps even more of a weakling that I thought, judging by the way you keep favoring your right wrist." Maeve wrinkled her nose.
"It's all the writing I've been doing for the Count. You are treacherous pond scum."
Conn flashed his fangs. "Good thing I have nothing to hide, eh?"
Maeve eyed his reproachfully. "Don't you? I'm sure the count would love to hear about the mess you made and how it was plastered in papers from here to Belfast."
Conn said nothing. He remained silent as Maeve shot him one last glare before entering Dracula's manor. It was most unfortunate for Maeve that he had decided he hated her perhaps as much as he loathed the count. And Conn had a talent for making those he despised miserable. Oh yes, the day would come when Maeve Reilly would deeply regret making an enemy of Lord Conn Zaylour.
AN: I hope this update makes up for the long wait.
Stuff I don't own: Dracula, Grendel from Beowulf reference, Cauldron of Dagda, and Bridget Cleary. Bridget's story is tragically a true story. Also, Bridget having a Singer sewing machine is like her having the newest iPad/iPhone Touch/insert new age technology everyone wants here.
The chapter itself gave some good interactions I think. We got Dracula vs. Conn, Maeve vs. Conn, Maeve vs. Dracula, Maeve vs. Margaret, and some subtle Antonio vs. Conn. After all this hate and conflict I promise the Maeve/Dracula goodness is coming. They just have to get there. Thank you to all my readers and reviewers. You guys make me smile. All in all, what did you guys think?